Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies: Catcher
By Barry Jeffrey, Jr.
Andy Seminick played in the 1950 World Series on a broken ankle. Stan Lopata and Benito Santiago each gave us a year of tremendous power. Darren Daulton helped give us 1993. Bob Boone gave us the honor of seeing possibly the best defensive catcher in history and helped give us 1980. Mike Lieberthal gave us hope, until he blew out his knee and was never really the same catcher again. Todayís catcher Carlos Ruiz gave us 2008 and makes us remember our love for ice cream.
Catchers for the Phillies have often been a hit or miss position during their years. With names like Spud Davis, the famous Bob Uecker, John Russell, Irish Mike Ryan, Johnny Peacock, Rod Barajas, and Gus Mancuso all manning the spot in team history it might surprise many that the Phillies have actually had decent catching for the most part since the mid 1970s, especially on the defensive end. Included in those years were some of the better defensive catchers in the game during their respective times like Santiago, Lake, and Boone, while guys like Daulton, Bo Diaz, Ozzie Virgil, Lieberthal, McCarver, and Brian Schneider are or were pretty good behind the plate in their own right.
The incumbent behind the plate Carlos Ruiz is one of the better defensive catchers in the game. His game calling is often sighted by his pitchers as a huge reason for their success. He can block the plate with the best of them and is very good at making sure sliders in the dirt donít reach the backstop. Ask Brad Lidge about that part and he will gush forth with praise for the man they call ďChoochĒ. Ruiz also has a strong arm and a quick release to second on attempted steals. Most stolen bases against him come from the pitcher not from Ruiz not being able to gun anyone down. In the National League St. Louisí Yadier Molina and maybe Cincinnatiís Ryan HaTrayvonn are the only better catchers on the defensive side and HaTrayvonn is arguable. Charlie Manuel often sites Ruiz as being one of the most indispensible parts of the team and his pitchers all agree.
On the offensive side Ruiz is not quite as good but he is not a bad guy in the line up. What he lacks in power he makes up for in getting on base. Even when his offense is suffering, as in 2008 when he hit .219, it never affects the other parts of his game. Ruiz has had OBP clips of .371, .400, and .355 in the last three seasons and he walks as much as or more than he strikes out. Running will never be a strong suit for him but he has managed to cut his grounded into double play balls down to 7-8 a year. He is usually very good in the playoffs as well, though last season against the Cardinals he disappeared.
Despite getting injured every year at some point he manages to play a lot of games every year. Many people think too many as Charlie Manuel always runs him out there. Last year he played in a career high 132 games and some think that could be why he performed so poorly in the playoffs. Getting him a bit more rest might be a good idea this season but one has to think that Manuel will be penciling Ruiz in at the number 8 spot in the line up as often as he can this season like every other year since Mike Lieberthal left.
Backing Ruiz up for the third season is Brian Schneider. Schneider is another plus defensive catcher. He had some troubles his first year on the team but last year was phenomenal behind the plate and with working with some of the pitchers. Vance Worley was one of the young pitchers Schneider is credited with really helping out. Schneider became to Worley what Tim McCarver was for Steve Carlton and Worleyís numbers took off. Schneider also has a plus arm behind the plate.
While he is a plus on the defensive side Schneiderís offense took a major nose dive last year. He batted well under the Mendoza line and displayed none of the minor power he has. Schneider is another guy who can work a count and take some walks, but his lack of hitting offset all of that. He is a guy whose OBP is usually 70-90 points higher than his average but hitting .175 wonít make anyoneís OBP look good. Of course the Phillies have said they really do not care about his offense at all, as long as his defense is strong and he calls great games they are happy. While I can agree somewhat, having a few black holes at the bottom of the line up did hurt the team often last season.
Schneiderís durability is also a question as he was hurt a few times since he came over to the Phillies from the Mets. The worst part is when he was hurt it was also when Carlos Ruiz was hurt at the same time. This prompted the Phillies to use Paul Hoover in 2010 and Dane Sardinha in 2010 and 2011 as their starting catcher and actually had no back up catcher behind them if either of them got hurt. That is very alarming.
Both Hoover and Sardinha are both gone and right now the third catcher on the depth chart is a guy like Schneider in that he is a local. Late bloomer Er ic Kratz has been a great catcher at AAA the last 3 years, hitting well and helping the pitchers on the farm out, even being a AAA All Star. He has had brief cups of coffee in the Majors the last two years with both Pittsburgh and with the Phillies. He is not a bad guy to have as depth. He was a late bloomer but he seems to be making the most of it and would be a much better call up than the departed Sardinha whose defense was over-rated and his offensive potential was more Ueckeresque than Mike Piazza territory. Yes I used a Tom McCarthyism there.
Kratz has shown decent power at AAA and if Ruiz and Schneider get hurt what is lost on defense may be made up somewhat with his bat. Kratz is also fearless behind the plate. He has taken a full force charge from a rampaging Prince Fielder with a bone jarring collision and held onto the ball and popped right up afterwards when he was with the Pirates. More guts than Rod Barajas showed when he was here to be sure.